FirstNet today announced a $40 million federal grant program that is designed to help 15 public-safety entities move their existing LMR operations from the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to FirstNet. The goal is to clear those airwaves by August 2017 for use by the contractor that will build and operate the proposed nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Information about the relocation grants is available online at the GRANTS.GOV website, with applications due on May 16. FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said that FirstNet’s spectrum-relocation team has been working with representatives of the 15 incumbent public-safety entities—“sometimes on a weekly basis”—with Band 14 narrowband systems in an effort to ensure that the relocation process is executed as smoothly as possible and does not result in any service interruption.

“All of the 15 agencies already have their plans on how they’re going to pull it off,” Poth said during today’s FirstNet board meeting. “Now, the critical component is the funding to be able to secure that.”

Poth said that the grant program will be administered by FirstNet, with assistance from the grant office at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“Our spectrum-relocation team is standing by in that partnership to assist the agencies in successfully completing the grant application,” he said.

Most of the spectrum-relocation work is expected to occur in Illinois, Virginia and Arkansas, each of which have statewide networks that need to be relocated to other spectrum. But other incumbent 700 MHz systems are much smaller, Poth said.

“Some of the agencies are literally two or three devices and maybe $700 in cost,” Poth said. “They may decide not to even apply for the grant and just move the two or three devices themselves, because it’s more cost effective than coming through the grant process.

“So they’re not all huge, giant initiatives. The team has worked with all of them and is very comfortable and confident that those individual agencies and their project teams have the methodology to be successful over the next year.”

These LMR systems were established prior to the FCC changing its 700 MHz spectrum plan in 2007 in a manner that supported public-safety broadband communications. That plan change—one that included the elimination of dedicated spectrum for public-safety wideband technologies—resulted in some narrowband systems continuing to operate on newly designated broadband spectrum, which is why the relocation is necessary.